People

Ph.D. Candidate Helps Rethink Graduate Education in the Humanities; and Other News About People

Carnegie Mellon U.

Scott B. Weingart
March 16, 2015

A Booster of Digital Humanities

Long known for computer science, Carnegie Mellon University is no slouch in the humanities, either. Scott B. Weingart, the university’s first-ever specialist in the digital humanities, wants to bring those two strengths together. His hiring last month is part of a five-year effort, supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, to rethink graduate education in the humanities in a digital era.

Mr. Weingart, who is 28, describes his three-pronged strategy for making Carnegie Mellon "a force to be reckoned with in the digital-humanities world." He’ll consult with faculty members and graduate students on projects that use computational tools to further humanities teaching and research. He’ll act as an evangelist, to see that the university is well represented in digital-humanities circles.

And he’ll create opportunities for students to get acquainted with digitally enabled scholarship — weeklong summer seminars for all incoming humanities Ph.D. candidates, for instance. "A crash course in the many pillars and corners of digital humanities," he calls the planned workshops. "A lot of job opportunities for humanities students who are technically literate are opening up."

Not everybody needs to know how to code for computers, he says, but anyone who wants to do digital scholarship needs to have what he calls "basic literacy" about concepts like algorithms. "If you’re going to be using it in your project, you need to know how it works," he says. "You don’t need to know how to implement it in Python," a popular programming language.

Not that he discourages people from learning how to program. Mr. Weingart embodies the kind of interdisciplinary scholarship he has been hired to promote. With an undergraduate background in computer engineering and the history of science, he is fascinated by both past and present-day information networks — the 18th-century scholarly network known as the Republic of Letters is a particular interest — and he is about a year away from completing a Ph.D. in information science and history of science at Indiana University at Bloomington.

On his website, www.scottbot.net, he blogs about increasingly essential subjects like topic modeling for humanists. That process involves using computer programs to pull topics or themes out of large amounts of text. He is also an accomplished juggler who helped put himself through college by performing. —Jennifer Howard


On Data and State Policy

After 30 years at the helm of the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, Dennis P. Jones will step down as president on September 30 and become a senior consultant there.

Mr. Jones, who turns 75 this week, spoke with The Chronicle about what he has learned from his work in higher-education planning, management systems, finance, and state policy. An edited excerpt of the interview follows.

Q. You helped develop standard ways of collecting and reporting data for institutions nationwide. How has that furthered the cause of higher education?

A. We’re still a long way from everybody doing it the same way, but it’s certainly better than it was in 1970. Having data that is reasonably comparable is an important piece of how we do analysis, how we understand the world in which we operate.

Q. Is there one thing you wish colleges understood better about state legislatures?

A. States have a legitimate interest in, not necessarily how institutions do their business, but what business institutions do. Institutions are fond of being very independent, but that doesn’t mean that states always have to pay for that independence.

Q. If you could lead Nchems for another 30 years, what would you hope to accomplish for higher education?

A. If there’s a goal we really have to attend to, it is, How do we narrow the equity gap between the haves and the have-nots in our society? We are not, as an industry, the engine of social mobility that we were 30 or 40 years ago.

As a country, we are not going to be successful only on the backs of the well-to-do. If we don’t serve a lot more first-generation and minority students, a lot more low-income students, and give them economic and social opportunity, then we’re in real trouble. —Madeline Will


Swarthmore and Access

Laurence Kesterson

Valerie A. Smith

Access to higher education has long been a priority for Valerie A. Smith, and she intends to keep it that way when she becomes president of Swarthmore College in July.

Ms. Smith, dean of the college at Princeton University and a professor of English and African-American studies, has worked at Princeton for more than 20 years, as well as at the University of California at Los Angeles.

Last year a committee on undergraduate socioeconomic diversity that she led recommended ways to help low-income and first-generation students succeed at Princeton. Among them: offering gateway classes in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics during the summer, and creating a network of mentors who could help raise awareness about diversity.

Ms. Smith, who is 59, plans to conduct similar research at Swarthmore and use it to further the college’s diversity efforts. One of the attractions of the new job, she says, was Swarthmore’s commitment to access. "We need to be as thoughtful as we can be about ensuring that students, whatever their backgrounds, are able to flourish and thrive in our institutions," she says.

Diversity plays a vital role within a liberal-arts education, she says, because it offers students a broad range of perspectives from which to learn.

Armed with the critical-thinking and collaboration skills they gain, students can contribute back to the common good, she says — "expand our own humanity, if you will." —Maddy Berner


A Cellist President

U. of Richmond

Ronald A. Crutcher

Eight months after he began teaching himself to play the cello, in his early teens, Ronald A. Crutcher performed a Bach cello suite so well at a competition that a professor of music at Miami University, in Ohio, began to teach him free.

"That chance encounter transformed my life," says Mr. Crutcher, now 68. Among other things, the professor, Elizabeth Potteiger, alerted him to the world of higher education. Now he is preparing to become president and a professor of music at the University of Richmond, after 10 years of leading Wheaton College, in Massachusetts.

He will start at Richmond on July 1 after he returns from a sabbatical in Berlin, where he has performed with the Klemperer Trio, a chamber-music ensemble he has been part of for 34 years.

A former member of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, who made his debut at Carnegie Hall in 1985, Mr. Crutcher rises early each morning to practice.

Being a chamber musician complements academic leadership, he says. Both require a willingness to assert oneself, when appropriate, but also to listen and to remain calm under pressure.

At Richmond, a private institution of 3,000 undergraduates and 1,100 graduate and professional students, he will have a solid platform for extolling the virtues of a liberal education, he believes. The departing president, Edward L. Ayers, who served for eight years, built "great institutional momentum," with such efforts as committing to use the university’s $2.3 billion endowment to help support a need-blind admissions policy and a guarantee to provide 100 percent of the needs of students from Virginia families with incomes under $60,000 a year. As a result, Richmond "now has so many more Pell Grant-recipient and first-generation college students," says Mr. Crutcher.

"That was really compelling to me," he says. But he would not have sought the job, he adds, had it not been for what happened as he sat last June in an interview for the directorship of a major American symphony orchestra: "I had a revelation," he says. "What I’m most passionate about is the power of education to transform the lives of young people, because that has been my experience." —Peter Monaghan


Shark Expert Dies at 92

Eugenie Clark, a professor emerita at the University of Maryland at College Park who helped open the doors of marine biology to women, died in Florida on February 25, of lung cancer. She was 92.

Ms. Clark’s fascination with sea life earned her the moniker "Shark Lady." She demonstrated that sharks can be trained, proved that not all sharks had to move constantly to breathe, and found that secretions from a certain flatfish were an effective shark repellent.

She was on the faculty of the biology department at Maryland from 1968 to 1992, and was founding director of the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, in Florida.

She once caught a ride on a pregnant whale shark, considered the largest fish, and made more than 70 deep-sea dives — once to 12,000 feet, The New York Times reported. Ms. Clark also advocated for the preservation of marine life. She shared her work through numerous lectures and publications, including the books Lady With a Spear and The Lady and the Sharks. —Anais Strickland